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Poll: How long did it take you to make a living as a full-time translator?
Thread poster: ProZ.com Staff
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Local time: 12:16
SITE STAFF
Jan 28, 2014

This forum topic is for the discussion of the poll question "How long did it take you to make a living as a full-time translator?".

This poll was originally submitted by David Friemann, MA. View the poll results »



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Yael Ramon  Identity Verified
Israel
Local time: 21:16
German to Hebrew
+ ...
i still don't make a living Jan 28, 2014

Israel is a very tough market. one income is no longer enough to survive, and if you are not willing to bust your ass 24 hours a day, you are very likely to need a second income source.

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Michael Harris  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 21:16
Member (2006)
German to English
less than 6 months Jan 28, 2014

after I went full time. I did work up to it part time though and after I had the reputation and contacts and the company that I was working for full time went bust, I took the chance and have never regretted it since

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Teresa Borges
Portugal
Local time: 20:16
Member (2007)
English to Portuguese
+ ...
Other Jan 28, 2014

I wonder if the question shouldn't be worded as: "How long did it take to make a living as a full-time FREELANCE translator?"

My answer to the question as it is worded is: immediately (I started as a full-time in-house translator).

My answer to the other question would be: < 6 months.


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Muriel Vasconcellos  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 12:16
Member (2003)
Spanish to English
+ ...
1-2 years Jan 28, 2014

I took the question literally. I had been working for 2 years as a secretary in an international organization when I took a test for an open position as editor/translator and got the job.

Decades later, when I decided to go freelance, my employer had a contract waiting for me, so I had no down time getting launched on my new career.


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Hin und Wieder  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 21:16
Member (2012)
German to Dutch
+ ...
>6 Months Jan 28, 2014

I work partime and make a very nice living with that. I guess I work with the right clients and agencies.

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LilianNekipelov  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 15:16
Russian to English
+ ...
This question is slightly imprecise. Jan 28, 2014

From when? From the time you started to learn both languages? About 25 years--my guess would be--this is what it usually takes for a an aspiring candidate to become a competent translator from the time they first started learning the languages, or the last of the languags they use for their work.

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David Wright  Identity Verified
Austria
Local time: 21:16
German to English
+ ...
Other Jan 28, 2014

I honestly can't remember! For many many years I was also a part time teacher at the local uni, and at some stage or other my translation income would have been sufficient by itself, but I carried on at the uni for other reasons.

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Steffen Walter  Identity Verified
Germany
Local time: 21:16
Member (2002)
English to German
+ ...
< 6 months (= almost immediately) Jan 28, 2014

I interpreted this question as referring to my starting out as a freelancer. Before I reached this point, I had worked as an in-house translator and interpreter for three years (at the German subsidiary of a UK building materials producer) while, time permitting, translating freelance on the side in my last year. When I decided to terminate my employment/to go freelance, my former employer very soon became my best client, and remained so for about three years, so 'less than 6 months' should in fact read 'almost immediately' in my case.

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Tim Drayton  Identity Verified
Cyprus
Local time: 22:16
Turkish to English
+ ...
Other Jan 28, 2014

It is hard to give a categorical reply. The issue is complicated in my case because I have made five different attempts in my life to establish myself as a freelance translator, with different results each time:

The first ever time I tried to launch myself as a freelance translator was while unemployed in the UK in 1985. I prepared a typewritten letter advertising my services - I boldly considered myself capable of working in four language pairs and in both directions (I had not event started learning Turkish yet, my main source language nowadays) - photocopied it and posted these out left, right and centre to local companies. I even sent one to the local newspaper and they came and did an interview with me, leading to a small article accompanied by my photograph. However, I did not receive even one inquiry about work, so that first attempt ended in failure.

In 1990, I returned to the UK from working abroad to take a one-year postgraduate course. Reading in a newspaper that demand for translation was rocketing and freelance translators were able to command ever higher rates, I thought that I should have another shot, and sent out CVs to many agencies - in the meantime, having acquired an intermediate level knowledge of Turkish, I was now boldly offering five language pairs. As a result, I received one test translation from an agency, and never heard from them again. Yet, again, I received no work, so my second attempt ended in failure.

In 1996, I was running a small company in Turkey that provided in-company language training services, when, out of the blue, one of our clients asked me if I could do a Turkish into English translation for them. I accepted and did the work myself, so this was the first paid translation that I ever did. I then decided that we should also promote ourselves as a translation service provider and, from time to time, work came in, some of which I did myself and some of which I assigned to other people. So, this time round, there was some success, but there was never enough translation work for me to make my living just from this.

In 1999, I returned to my own country of the UK (again!) and once more attempted to set myself up as a freelance translator. I used the opportunity of being in London to sit the Institute of Linguists' Diploma in Translation from Turkish - this having become by far my strongest language following years of residence in Turkey - to English, and, to my surprise, passed. I went on to eventually set up a small specialist agency working in both directions and in all specialisms, using a small team of freelancers that I was in contact with - by now I had become sophisticated enough to realise that I could not work in all areas and in both directions! However, I was still having to balance this with other part-time jobs to make ends meet, and was basically running down my life savings to keep going. Eventually, in 2002, I reached my overdraft limit and had to to accept an offer of work in Qatar. My fourth attempt was far more successful than the first three, but I could hardly claim to be earning an acceptable living from translation.

At the end of 2004 I settled in Cyprus and decided to have another attempt - the fifth - at becoming a freelance translator. This time, by the middle of 2005, I was receiving a fairly steady flow of work at reasonable rates, and the cost of living in Cyprus was a lot lower than it is now, so for a number of years I could claim to have been earning an acceptable income by local standards. However, the once steady flow of work has fallen to an intermittent trickle in these days of crisis, and despite offering rates that are about 15-20% lower than a few years ago for Turkish to English legal translation, I get less and less work and fewer and fewer inquiries in what has basically become my main area of specialisation. Certainly, given that I have no independent income and I have supported myself for the past nine years from translation work alone - my income for 2012 was sub-subsistence, but I was able to subsidise myself in that year using money that I had set aside from more fruitful years - I suppose that I can claim to have succeeded, although against the backdrop of falling demand and rates and an ever increasing cost of living, I am far from sure as to whether this will continue.

Given that I fist attempted to become a freelance translator in 1985, and 2006 was the first year in which I earned enough money to support myself from translation, I suppose the answer is 21 years in my case, if you ignore the fact that I was doing other things between attempts.


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Helen Hagon  Identity Verified
Local time: 20:16
Member (2011)
Russian to English
+ ...
Not there yet Jan 28, 2014

I don't (yet) make a full-time living from translation as I currently juggle translation with being a mummy (all those bandages can be a drag ). I am hoping that, as the children get older, I will gradually be able to channel more time and energy into translating. That's the plan, at least...

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Alexandranow  Identity Verified
Romania
Local time: 22:16
Romanian to English
+ ...
not yet, still struggling after so many years Jan 28, 2014

I live in Romania and I can tell you is not easy to survive as a translator, do not know exactly why, might be a combination of reasons. For example in a certain period too many got the permit to translate, regardless of the results in school. Another thing to blame that ruin the market and prices: agencies....they just propose to clients not real prices, of course they are not the one to do the work. And afterward the unfair clients, who desire translations without signing an agreement and for too low prices, once again. I am already tired....

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Kitty Brussaard  Identity Verified
Netherlands
Local time: 21:16
Member (2009)
English to Dutch
+ ...
3-4 years Jan 28, 2014

I needed appr. 3-4 years to build a customer base (consisting of both LSPs and end clients) sufficiently large to provide a steady workflow. I don't think freelance translators are any different from most other self-employed professionals in this respect.

[Bijgewerkt op 2014-01-28 17:17 GMT]


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Daniel1223
United States
Local time: 12:16
Japanese to English
+ ...
Other - Challenging Jan 28, 2014

I'd have to agree with some of the other respondents that being a translator is a challenging career path.

I've been nearly full-time for the last couple of years but have been helped by secondary teaching stints very much.

In my view, surviving as a full-time translator, unless you have the connections, can be difficult depending on the country and the lifestyle you choose.

Nevertheless it is the most rewarding career for me!


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Triston Goodwin  Identity Verified
United States
Local time: 13:16
Spanish to English
+ ...
<6 months Jan 28, 2014

I started in-house as well. By the time layoffs came through my office, I already had a few freelance clients and was able to quickly find a couple of good clients to work with.

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